Watching any of the movies that Ben Wheatley has made, I get the distinct sense that he is much smarter than me. Known for depictions of violence, twisted character motivations and bleak endings, Ben Wheatley movies share a secret that I’ve not been let in on.
Bursting onto my personal movie scene, I first found the Englishman through A Field In London and the more straightforward Sightseers, the latter starts out as a road trip movie that quickly devolves into something completely charming and mortifying. A Field in England is exactly that, the worst acid trip of your life set in black and white, while managing to be strangely interesting and funny.
Wheatley has slowly being making his way into the ranks of the Hollywood production system, although I’m not sure he really wishes to. Until Highrise with Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons and now Free Fire, Wheatley has traditionally worked within the indie movie scene. Adored by those with a taste for the Genre film or a slow and foreboding film structure, Wheatley hasn’t become a mainstream talent yet and I’m not sure that’s something he gives a shit about. All of this to say: I’m a big fan of Ben Wheatley. More puzzled than adoring, I want to know what makes him tick, and because of that I cannot wait for the special features of Free Fire.
But honestly, I didn’t love Free Fire. I actually didn’t like it that much at all (except for the soundtrack which uses a great John Denver tune to help anchor the tension). Free Fire I suppose you could say is the biggest movie he’s made to date, in terms of cast, budget and general Hollywood appeal. The proverbial who's who of acting showed up for this one: You’ve got the Irish Daniel Day Lewis in Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto “the best accent ever” Copley and Wheatley regular Michael Smiley.
The acting is great with a mixed bag of sketched out characters. While Armie Hammer soaks up every second of screen time, clearly having a blast with the dialogue Wheatley and his writing partner Amy Jump put together—his character just isn’t that interesting. In fact, none of the characters are. Once shit hits the fan and the guns start going off, all semblance of well rounded characters go off as well. And I get it, It’s a claustrophobic arms deal gone wrong with all of the action taking place in one warehouse. And that’s great, the movie flows well, the cinematography from Laurie Rose is chaotic but still provides a sense of clarity. But I don’t care what happens to anyone, and maybe I’m not supposed to. But it’s not one of those philosophical nothing fucking matters films. This isn’t the Thin Red Line and Wheatley isn’t Mallick. It is cool as fuck though. The distinct 70s era production style permeates throughout the 90 minute running time and helps elevate a movie we’ve seen before into a unique violent almost strange period piece.
It’s an entertaining movie don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t but wonder how much better it would have been if I was at all invested in what was going on. I never cared about any character surviving. I hadn’t picked a clear winner and even if I wasn’t supposed to attach to one character, isn't that poor storytelling? I’m not quite sure with this one. I want Ben Wheatley to be successful and I want more people to know his name and enjoy his work. But at the same time, I want Wheatley to be able to make weird shit that fully connects. So I definitely think that If you get the chance, on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, you should pay for a half priced ticket, grab a bag of popcorn and sit down for a 90 minutes full of bullets, jokes and dope music.
Free Fire gets: Watch when you can.